Keep your family close and your secrets closer….
To the outside world, the Goodlights are perfect.
Julia is a lawyer, Paul a stay-at-home dad who has dedicated his life to helping their daughter Chrissie achieve her dreams as a talented violinist. But on the night of a prestigious music competition, which has the power to change everything for Chrissie and her family, Chrissie goes missing. She puts on the performance of a lifetime, then completely disappears. Suddenly every single crack, every single secret that the family is hiding risks being exposed.
Because the Goodlights aren’t perfect. Not even close.
Wow this book is tense! Tense enough to give you a migraine. East has a way of writing that flows so well, but is paced to give a really slow drip drip of information. It’s clear from just the day to day activities of the Goodlights that something is ‘off’ and my brain was skittering all over the place to work it out, rather like Bambi on the ice. The author pulls off a clever trick, by letting the Goodlights speak for themselves. She’s not explicit, but their inner talk and actions allow the evidence to pile up; something is badly wrong here, but the author withholds just enough that we don’t know what is that is. As I read on, my brain was coming up with more and more questions. What’s with Julia’s parents and their strange attitude towards women’s behaviour? Why is Paul so obsessed with his stepdaughter’s career and so rigid with her regime? Is it the result of a thwarted desire in his own life and will Chrissie snap under the pressure? What’s with the strange background conversations between Julia’s mother and Paul? I’m not surprised at all when Chrissie goes missing, the only surprise is that she didn’t go sooner.
I found Paul’s attitude with Chrissie really disturbing. I understand wanting the best for your child, but this is creepy. Not only does he control her potential career and keep her practicing, he looks after her diet, her free time and leaves her with no privacy – even policing her phone, from quickly checking the screen when a notification comes in, to demanding to look through all her messages and emails. Does he have her on such a short lease to prevent something happening, or is he reacting to something that’s happened before? There’s a strange dynamic between Chrissie’s grandmother and Paul. I was disturbed by her attitude towards her daughter and granddaughter with her suggestion that certain behaviours are in the blood and there’s something tainted in their DNA. It’s almost as if they appreciate Paul more than their own flesh and blood. At times Celina speaks to him as if he’s a member of staff. There are pictures hidden in Julia’s childhood bedroom of a time at university when she appears free and perhaps part of a hippy group, implying experimentation with drugs and promiscuity. Celina is concerned that her ‘tainted blood’ has passed to Chrissie and tells Paul ‘I can smell it on her’ giving an unpleasant image of an animal in heat. Was she the instigator of the rigid regime Paul imposed on his stepdaughter or was she merely the gatekeeper? Patriarchies often depend on women to uphold their rules. I felt uncomfortable all the way through this novel, but in retrospect I think this was down to my own experience in an abusive relationship. There’s now something in me that is repulsed by males like Paul exerting power over the women in their family, exerting coercive control and gaslighting those they are supposed to love most. This tells me that the author’s depiction is successful, or it wouldn’t have made me feel this way.
Throughout the novel my brain was drifting back to Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys’s response Wide Sargasso Sea and the anti-heroine Bertha Mason. Bertha (whose name is actually Antoinette) is Mr Rochester’s first wife, doomed to a life locked in an attic, because of her unnatural passions and hereditary madness. She works as a contrast to the still and quiet Jane, who was constantly told to rein in her passionate nature when she was a child. Bertha’s fate could have been Jane’s. However, in her book Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys gives Bertha a back story where Rochester marries then rejects the wife who was too passionate in the bedroom and enjoyed his advances – the inference being that a wife should meekly accept sexual advances, but not relish them. I felt throughout East’s novel, that a similar misogynistic double standard is at play. When we delve into Julia’s inner world we can see how insidious emotional abuse is, because these ideas are running through her head constantly. She doubts her own instincts and worries that Chrissie’s disappearance is a consequence of her failure to ‘behave’ in the way she’s been taught. Paul and Julia don’t fully communicate either, operating in completely different spheres with him at home and her at work. Law is such a demanding career and Julia works constantly, almost like it’s a penance, rarely interacting with Paul or Chrissie and never involved in her daughter’s strict regime. It’s almost as if she’s abdicated all responsibility for her to Paul, but is that choice or a mistaken belief that he’ll do a better job than her? There’s also the shadowy figure of Francis, someone she doesn’t want near her family and seems to fear. This really is a toxic mix, a family who seem shielded from scrutiny by their money and once you delve beyond appearances, are a million miles away from the ordinary. Will Chrissie be found and is her disappearance down to a malign outside influence as they all suspect? Whatever has happened to Chrissie, you’ll not stop reading till you work out what is so deeply wrong at the heart of this family?
Published on 12th January by HQ
Thanks to HQ and the Squad Pod Collective for my proof copy.